Paleodemography and Historical Demography in the Context of an Epidemic

Plague in Provence in the Eighteenth Century
By Michel Signoli, Isabelle Séguy, Jean-Noël Biraben, Olivier Dutour, Paul Belle


This article sheds an entirely new light on the study of the plague thanks to contributions from disciplines that are only seldom brought together around the same research topic: anthropology, archaeology, historical demography, history, microbiology and paleodemography. It confronts two types of documents: biological archives (the skeletons) and historical archives, the comparative study of which has provided new and original information.
Distribution of the casualties by sex, age and intensity of the epidemic phase has been established and compared with previous results. The age distribution of deaths from the plague differs from “natural” mortality profiles and from deaths resulting from other epidemics or other demographic crises. The plague epidemic may be characterized as “non selective”, given that the bio- or paleodemographic sample may be considered as a reflection of the structure of the living population, something which is rarely observed.
The results that we present concern a recent period for which the historical archives are of exceptional richness and provide a great deal of information on modern plague epidemics. The results from anthropological fieldwork and microbiology enable us to envisage similar research on more ancient epidemics, even in the absence of written documents.

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